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AlaskaACT E-News - August 29, 2010

Alaska's other pipeline

The Ryndam's engines power a vital economy for Southeast Alaska
By Gary Lidholm

When John Binkley, Director of the Alaska Cruise Association led a Haines delegation aboard the Holland America ship Ryndam, he commented that this industry represented Alaska's "other pipeline." 
"And this pipeline should not run dry," he added.

Binkley was referring to the $636 million that the cruise industry injects into the Southeast Alaska economy. When he and a Ryndam's officer showed the delegation the five 11,000 HP engines that power the cruise ship, he was also showing us economic engines that drive Southeast's economy. Indeed, it is like another pipeline on which Alaska's economy is so dependent.

Twelve people representing the Haines Borough and tourism industry were invited to a 4 ½ hour tour on the Ryndam as it tied up in Haines for a day's visit on August 11th. Ship personnel and the Cruise Association representatives impressed upon the delegation both the economic benefits to SE Alaska of this industry and also the environmental measures undertaken on each ship to comply with stringent discharge, waste and emission standards. Although the delegation was aware of these impacts, the magnitude and details came as a surprise to most.

The tour began with a presentation by John Binkley who spoke of the economic aspects of the cruise ship industry activity in Southeast. Binkley pointed out that the average ship passenger spends $388 in Southeast, and crew members drop another $15 million. Cruise lines themselves spend $77 million and the industry as a whole supports 7,000 full time equivalent jobs. Their pay-roll totals $275 million. A few members of the delegation were busy with calculators figuring out how much sales tax was generated by these visitors.
The economic presentation was followed by a video and tour by Peter Tutter, the ship's Environmental, Safety and Health Officer. The video highlighted how Holland America ships comply with international environmental standards and he then gave the group a tour deep into the ship that even cruise ship passengers do not see. Most visitors would like to see the engine room and the bridge, which this group saw, but in addition the Haines tour included an extensive look at the recycle and treatment facilities on board.

The Ryndam must treat 60,000 gallons of sewage a day and 9 lbs. of solid waste that is generated by each of the 1,300 passengers. Wearing ear protection to guard against the large-scale re-cycle and treatment equipment and even enduring some unpleasant smells, the group saw how every piece of trash is handled and prepared for disposal or recycle and how the sewage (black water) and grey water is turned into clear water that is cleaned beyond what Alaska municipalities can do.

The sewage disposal standards are exceedingly high and have cost the Alaska cruise ship industry $200 million to implement since earlier in the decade. But the standards are still contentious because of mixing zone standards and requirements to not only remove bacteria but certain metals from the water.

Cruise ships have been meeting standards for discharges of fecal matter and bacteria since 2001, but a 2006 ballot measure enacted into law required the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to also regulate discharges of certain metals. This was the same initiative that enacted a controversial $50 per person cruise passenger tax -- a tax that was reduced by the Legislature this year. It was difficult for the cruise ships to meet the limits for metals, and in 2009 the Legislature, recognizing the difficulty, modified the law to delay enforcement of the limits until 2016. In the meantime, the law requires cruise ships to use the "most technologically effective and economically feasible" wastewater treatment available. What was observed on the Ryndam appeared, at least to the unscientific eye, to be a serious effort on the part of the industry to comply.

From a bacteria and fecal count standpoint, the clear water coming through the four-stage recovery process on the ship was cleaner that what the city of Haines discharges. One of the uses of this water was to water the extensive floral arrangements found throughout the ship.

Recycling waste aboard ship is a labor-intensive but thorough job. "If someone throws away a battery, we will find it," was a comment heard as employees sifted through trash to find recyclable batteries, aluminum, plastic, and glass. The group saw banded stacks of cardboard and containers of recyclables stacked and ready for off-loading at a port that could handle them.

A trip to the bridge was a treat and most marveled at the electronics and computerization of a modern command center. The engine room was noisy but impressive with its five, huge diesels generating a total of 55,000 horsepower and the generator sets supplying 9.9 megawatts of power -- over 4 times the power that Haines consumes. Energy conscious members of the delegation were busy mentally visual-izing the fuel savings that would come from turning off these generators and the money that could be injected in the local economy if the ship could plug into shore power as is done in Juneau. But it would take a Connelly Lake scale hydro to supply such power.
Holland America rolled out the white tablecloths and ended the tour with one of their famous lunches on board. It was the perfect ending of a look at "Alaska's other pipeline."

The delegation included Mayor Jan Hill, Borough Manager Mark Earnest, Facilities Director Brad Maynard, Water and Sewer Plant Operator Scott Bradford, Chamber of Commerce Director Carl Heinz, Energy Commission Coordinator Stephanie Scott, Tourism Director Lori Stepansky, Assistant Borough Clerk Jamie Heinz, Borough Assembly member, Joanne Waterman, Alaska Cruise Association member Karen Hess, Tourism Advisory Board member Juanita Lidholm and Gary Lidholm representing both the Energy Commission and the media.

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